Neuronal degeneration in Alzheimer's disease (AD) has been variously attributed to increases in cytosolic calcium, reactive oxygen species, and phosphorylated forms of the microtubule-associated protein tau. beta-Amyloid (betaA), which accumulates extracellularly in AD brain, induces calcium influx in culture via the L voltage-sensitive calcium channel. Since this channel is normally activated by protein kinase A-mediated phosphorylation, we examined kinase activities recruited following betaA treatment of cortical neurons and SH-SY-5Y neuroblastoma. betaA increased channel phosphorylation; this increase was unaffected by the protein kinase A inhibitor H89 but was reduced by the mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase inhibitor PD98059. Pharmacological and antisense oligonucleotide-mediated reduction of MAP kinase activity also reduced betaA-induced accumulation of calcium, reactive oxygen species, phospho-tau immunoreactivity, and apoptosis. These findings indicate that MAP kinase mediates multiple aspects of betaA-induced neurotoxicity and indicates that calcium influx initiates neurodegeneration in AD. betaA increased MAP kinase-mediated phosphorylation of membrane-associated proteins and reduced phosphorylation of cytosolic proteins without increasing overall MAP kinase activity. Increasing MAP kinase activity with epidermal growth factor did not increase channel phosphorylation. These findings indicate that redirection, rather than increased activation, of MAP kinase activity mediates betaA-induced neurotoxicity.